Minister for Foreign Affairs Keynote Address at Fifth Annual Reconciliation Networking Forum
Fifth Annual Reconciliation Networking Forum
Royal Hospital Kilmainham
Minister’s Keynote Address
5 July 2010
It is heartening to see so many of you here today and the great turnout – during peak holiday season in the North – reaffirms for me the central importance of reconciliation in building a peaceful and prosperous future on the island.
Occasions like this remind us of the value in taking stock of where we’ve come from – looking at the individual and collective journeys that bring us together today.
Your support for the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Fifth Reconciliation Networking Forum is deeply appreciated. Indeed the last year or so – since we last met in Dublin – has marked significant milestones on our collective journey towards peace and prosperity on this island and it is worth pausing to reflect on some of these positive developments.
The recent Westminster elections have seen the formation of a new Conservative/Liberal Government in London. The Taoiseach met Prime Minister Cameron in London on 23 June and I have met Owen Paterson. They are fully committed to implementing all of the Agreements and we look forward to working with them to achieve full implementation of the Agreements and to ensure that the benefits of the peace process are spread out to all the people of these islands. In Northern Ireland, the election result was a ringing endorsement for those wanting to work together in the devolved institutions for the benefit of all the people. Those who wanted to undermine powersharing were roundly rejected by the electorate.
I hope this positive message which the electorate has given about working together is reflected day in, day out in the work of the Assembly and Executive. There is a real opportunity now, during a period of sustained and stable devolved government, to demonstrate that the parties can cooperate together to create jobs, reduce crime rates and improve services even in a time of economic difficulty.
Indeed given the global and domestic economic difficulties, North/South co-operation has an important role to play in the economic development of this island and in meeting the particular fiscal challenges we all face. Earlier today I attended a plenary meeting of the North South Ministerial Council at Farmleigh, the sixth such meeting in the past three years. Together with the Taoiseach, my Government colleagues, the First Minister, deputy First Minister and their Executive colleagues, we discussed the fiscal challenges facing both jurisdictions, and agreed to work more closely together to examine where we can each save money by addressing duplication of services and harnessing synergies where possible. We also looked at how we can encourage economic growth and job creation through, for example, helping develop the island into a leading region for innovation, research and development
Devolution of Policing and Justice
The success of the peace process is central to selling the economic message and attracting inward investment.
Following on from the Hillsborough Agreement, the completion of the devolution of policing and justice marks an important milestone in fulfilling the full vision of the Good Friday Agreement and closes the circle in the transformation of policing structures in Northern Ireland.
All those involved in transforming policing and in changing attitudes around policing – and there are many who took risks in driving change – can be very proud of the service they have built and the changed culture of policing.
Ten years on from the publication of the Patten Report, authority and responsibility for policing and justice issues are now where they ought to be – at local level, accountable to, and operating for the benefit of all in the community.
Last week two more police officers were injured in the line of duty. I want to send my best wishes for their full recovery and to call on anyone with information about those responsible to contact the PSNI or Gardaí.
The turn of the year also saw important acts of decommissioning take place – mainly by loyalist organisations but also by some republican groups.
Communities across Northern Ireland have long lived and suffered under the shadow of the gunman. This has meant not just that they have been ruled by fear and insecurity but also that the potential for developing their communities has been severely stunted.
It is no coincidence that those areas which suffered terrible losses during the Troubles and where paramilitarism claimed to be the only authority, are still the most socially and economically deprived wards in Northern Ireland.
The removal of guns presents an opportunity to reinvigorate our work in these communities and look at new forms of cooperation to ensure that there is a peace dividend for all.
I am sure that all of you in this room could point to achievements over the last year in your own communities which have demonstrated improvements in relationships within communities and between communities. These significant steps may not always get the recognition from the outside that they deserve but they are important. One clear example, where the eyes of the world were present to see just how significant is the progress that is being made, was on 15th June. International media were present in large numbers in Derry to see the reactions to the publication of the Saville report. I am sure there were some who questioned whether the Inquiry was re-opening old wounds. For the families, the gaping wound of the injustice wrought by the Widgery report was healed.
Many people around the world saw the reactions of the people in the Guildhall Square to the brave and honest words of Prime Minister Cameron.
The publication of the Saville report has improved our understanding of the events that happened on Bloody Sunday but it had also opened up debate about the history of the conflict more generally. While some may suggest that this is not a good idea, I disagree. That debate will also cause us to focus on the consequences of the conflict. The effects on shattered families and communities across this island. I know that I do not need to tell anyone in this audience that consequences of the conflict spread within families, within communities, across the island and across the generations.
After waiting 38 years, the families of those who were killed and injured on Bloody Sunday emerged out into Guildhall Square. Even in this moment of deep emotion for them they had the generosity of spirit to ask that those present remember all of those who died during the Troubles. The next morning, the families of those killed and injured welcomed Bishop Good, Moderator Hamilton and President Kingston to the Bogside. These three leaders of the Protestant churches joined with Bishop Daly and the families to again reflect and remember all of those who died during the Troubles.
The Protestant church leaders presented the families with a replica of the statue on the Craigavon Bridge that represents the two sides of the River Foyle reaching out to each other. However, in this replica, the hands do not just reach out but grasp in common humanity and friendship.
As Bishop Ken Good said, he hoped that the dark cloud that had descended on the city on Bloody Sunday had lifted. The presence of those church leaders was an opportunity for the people of Derry and Londonderry to come together. The spirit of generosity and reconciliation that was demonstrated to the world over those days is, I know, what guides each of you in the work that you do.
The momentum from these developments presents us with a unique opportunity to build sustained peace and prosperity on this island of ours.
But assuring our peace and prosperity will depend on our ability to work collectively as a society, within and across our communities. Reconciliation practitioners at the coalface will need to be flexible and adaptive to respond in a consistent and united manner to events that test and challenge our peace and prosperity.
Fundamentally those of us involved in the business of reconciliation will need to continuously innovate in how we respond to the challenges we face.
I am anxious that my Department leads by example. In this regard, my officials are conducting an independent review of the effectiveness and efficiency of the Reconciliation and Anti-Sectarianism Funds. Session One today was a central element of this Review. By sharing your experiences and your ideas with us, you will help us make a more effective contribution to improving community relations on our island and put the resources we have available to the best possible use. Thank you for your critical input to this review in Session One and please share with us any further thoughts and ideas you might have in the coming days and weeks. You are the leading practitioners. It is important that your voices are fully reflected in this Review.
Over the last hour or two you have also been discussing ways of ensuring a peace dividend for all. I picked up on the tail end of that conversation and I’m impressed with the quality of the thinking on this critical matter. I might share some of my thoughts on the challenges to our future peace and prosperity.
The activities of dissident republican groups have grabbed the headlines of late, whether it is through their intent to stoke up and cause resentment at difficult interface areas or on a more sinister note, through the maiming and killing of people, attacking the police in wanton disregard for the lives of police officers and the wider community.
Let me be clear on my views of this activity. As a democrat, as an elected representative of a political party proud of and committed to its republican tradition, I deplore their actions and call on them to stop.
The term of dissident was a badge of honour in the cold war. It meant you stood for democracy and the rule of law against totalitarianism. These groups have absolutely no entitlement to that name.
Nor are they true republicans – true republicanism is the coming together of the green and the orange in tolerance and mutual understanding. If anything these groups are de facto partitionists whose actions serve to further divide and to alienate the people of this island from one another – catholic from protestant; Nationalist from Unionist; northerner from southerner.
Twelve years ago the people of this island voted together in favour of the Good Friday Agreement. When the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland voted for the Agreement, we said clearly and categorically that violence was not the way to resolve political differences. Instead, the way forward was on the basis of consent.
The people of Ireland, North and South, have said clearly that the only viable road to unity on this island lies through peace, tolerance, persuasion and agreement. Those that reject these principles perpetuate the divisions on the island.
While communities may be frustrated about the issues of Drugs and Anti-Social behaviour, the answer does not lie with self-appointed, vigilante elements themselves often involved in criminality - who do not accept the clearly expressed will of the people of this island. These are fundamentally policing matters.
There can be no substitution or dilution of the role of policing in society.
I can appreciate that there was a time when policing in the north was not inclusive. It is now. Policing is now a service of and for Catholics and Protestants, for the whole community. It is now a service where all of the accents of these islands are to be heard.
This diversity is now a great strength, one which helps drive the ongoing and continuous transformation of policing.
Great progress has been made in making the PSNI more representative of the whole community, as provided for in the Patten Report. We must continue to build on this. I encourage Catholics from nationalist and republican backgrounds to continue applying in increasing numbers to join the PSNI. The best way to ensure that the PSNI understands your community is to join it. I also encourage the families, friends and local communities of those who apply and join the PSNI to offer their support and encouragement.
I met the Chief Constable Matt Baggott and David Ford the Minister for Justice in Belfast recently and I was reminded that these ten years have seen profound changes in policing in the north and it is now accountable, transparent, and representative of the community. In that spirit of Patten, it has become a police service, not the police force it was once, part of the framework of society in the north.
I discussed with Minister Ford the importance of his Department also cherishing that Patten spirit. He and his Department have been given something important in trust for the people of Northern Ireland – responsibility for all the policing institutions and the changed culture of policing here. The Government in Dublin looks forward to working closely with Minister Ford, building on the already excellent cooperation between the Gardaí and the PSNI.
For our part, I assure you that Cooperation between the Gardaí and the PSNI has never been greater or more intense. Both forces are working in close cooperation to deal with cross-border criminal activity and the dissident threat.
Hard to Reach Engagement
One of the great motivating factors behind the momentum for a comprehensive peace settlement was a real desire to create a better future and a shared society for generations to come.
It is a great tragedy that young people should become disaffected or that they cannot recognise or experience the great benefits that sustained peace has brought to Northern Ireland. We have an obligation to them to provide opportunities, to help them find their voice, and ensure that they do not fall into the hands of criminals, intent on destroying the hard won peace.
Some weeks back, I visited Duncairn Gardens in Belfast and met with groups from the New Lodge and Tigers Bay areas. One fifth of Troubles related deaths took place within the square mile that surrounds the interface. It is a horrifying statistic. The wounds run deep and are reflected in the physical landscape.
Despite this, groups from the area are working hard, together, to make their communities safer for all and to build sustainable development in their neighbourhood. I was hugely impressed by their commitment and by the partnerships they have developed across the divide.
Fostering economic growth is also a key factor in building confident, forward looking communities. It is true that North and South of the border we are experiencing economic hardships. Nonetheless, the regeneration of deprived communities – what some have come to refer to as hard to reach communities – can be a building block to economic growth as well as an important signal that every citizen on every street counts. Communities working together, across peace walls and deep rooted divisions, can be important catalysts for growth.
Many of the social problems within a mile or two of Duncairn Gardens are the problems of social housing estates elsewhere on the island. These are problems that don’t distinguish between identity and religion.
I believe that there are also real opportunities for cooperation on a North South basis in regeneration. Regeneration projects in Ballymun in Dublin and Southill and Moyross in Limerick are the most high profile efforts we are making in the south at addressing the problems endemic in large social housing areas. As a Cork man, I am also particularly familiar with the considerable regeneration work undertaken in Knocknaheeny – a large working class suburb in my own native City.
While these regeneration projects receive significant funding from the Government, the success of these regeneration projects is not solely down to government funding. They are driven by the participation of a strong, vibrant and cohesive community sector.
It is clear from the regeneration experiences in Cork, Dublin and Limerick that individual groups cannot solve the embedded social difficulties of our communities on their own. A collaborative approach is needed. But it must be a collaborative approach that respects and values the contribution and role of the individual groups.
Removing weapons from the equation has been a huge step in building confidence in hard to reach communities. You heard earlier from Avila Kilmurray. The pioneering work of CFNI in helping individual transition from conflict to peace building and community development demonstrates that everybody can contribute constructively to a peaceful and prosperous future. In building an inclusive process of reconciliation, we should encourage and value everybody’s input, not on the basis of their past status but on their potential contribution to reconciliation.
Reflecting these challenges, my Department’s Reconciliation and Anti Sectarianism Funds have developed a strong focus both on youth outreach and on community empowerment and regeneration.
Today, I am delighted to announce funding of over €450,000 for 37 groups. Many of the projects are directly addressing the issues we are discussing here today. In the time available, I would like to highlight just a few of the projects being funded.
Among those who will receive a grant is Achieve Enterprises. My Department is pleased to be able to support this innovative new project which will look at young people’s rights and responsibilities around stop and search powers. The programme is designed to improve young people’s relationships with authority and with the police. Achieve Enterprises, a social economy off shoot of Public Achievement, has a proven record in achieving “buy in” from at risk young people in marginalised communities.
Funding has also been allocated to other Youth Based Projects, including:
· Youth Work Ireland Monaghan, to support the partnership between young people from communities in Fermanagh, Monaghan and Belfast which encourages young people to recognise the similarities between them, to accept the differences and to challenge the barriers to peace and reconciliation;
· Newbuildings Community Association, to contribute to a cultural diversity programme which encourages young people to become involved in youth club activities, to build links with similar communities and thereby encourage cross-community contact and inter-action.
· New Lodge Arts, towards their cross community youth arts festival “Celebrate North Belfast” will take place at the end of the month;
· Saint Youth Centre in the Twinbrook/Poleglass area of West Belfast to support their cross community work in East Belfast and North Down;
· Forge Family Resource Centre, to develop a cross-border, cross-community project in Pettigo and Tullyhommon.
I am also pleased to announce continued support for the work of Community Relations in Schools who have developed a sustainable model for building collaborative relationships between parent groups at nursery school level.
Funding will also be provided for Forthspring Intercommunity Group which is helping build local capacity and relationships across a difficult interface. This project is community driven initiative to improve relations and to regenerate a deprived area.
Mentioning each group would be impossible in such a short time but I want to commend all the groups to receive funding – and indeed all you here today – for your sustained commitment, individually to your communities and collectively to our island, to protecting our hard won peace and building a prosperous future.
Reconciliation is a generational task, requiring effort from us as individuals, as parents and families, as communities and as governments. All of gathered here today are committed to working for reconciliation between communities in Northern Ireland, and between North and South.
Reconciliation between Ireland and Great Britain has also been hugely advanced over recent decades, most importantly through the working together of successive Irish and British governments on the peace process.
It is right and timely that this transformation of relations between these islands should be reflected in a State visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth. Relations between our own two countries should be marked by the normal courtesies between neighbouring states and I am sure that the vast majority of people on this island support this visit taking place in a spirit of mutual respect and Irish welcome. Such a visit will honour all that we have achieved together in the peace process.
On a final note I thank you for your warm welcome this evening. In the two short days of this year’s Forum, I hope you will have the opportunity to share your experiences of what works in Reconciliation and learn about the experiences of others in your field. Outside of the formal sessions there will, as usual, be opportunities to develop new contacts. You are all expert at building relationships and many of you already know each other well. I would encourage you to use your time here to make connections with the faces that are not so familiar and build new partnerships for your organisations.
7 July 2010